Godard’s ‘Breathless’ is lovelier than ever

[23 October 2007]

By Terry Lawson

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

On my first class of the semester, I ask my film students to talk about their favorite film.

This fall, one fellow told me it was Jean Luc-Godard’s “A bout de souffle.” He wasn’t being pretentious, he said. He just didn’t want his classmates to think he was referring to “Breathless,” the 1983 remake with Richard Gere.

I didn’t care whether he was being pretentious. I was just happy that another generation of college kids was being exposed to Godard’s 1960 drama, of which Roger Ebert has rightfully claimed: “Modern movies start here.”

In fact, Godard was famously offered the opportunity to direct “Bonnie and Clyde,” a movie, like dozens in its wake, that owes an enormous debt to “Breathless,” which is the title Godard’s film was given in the United States.” It’s also the title applied to the amazing new two-DVD release from the Criterion Collection (4 stars, $39.95).

Those who remember the film only from the scratchy and faded film class and revival theater prints will be shocked at how beautiful it looks in the high-definition transfer on the first disc.

The second disc includes archival interviews with the director and Jean-Paul Belmondo, who became an instant star for his portrayal of a petty thief with an obvious affection for the film noir antiheroes of 1940s American films and for Jean Seberg, the cool young blond he picks up.

The seemingly definitive “Breathless” almost overshadows Criterion’s other new contribution to the canon this week. It’s Terrence Malick’s timelessly beautiful 1978 morality tale “Days of Heaven” (4 stars, $39.95), starring Gere as a post-World War I steelworker who flees Chicago (after accidentally killing his foreman). He quickly hopes a train to Texas along with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and her world-weary little sister, Linda (Linda Manz).

There, they all get jobs harvesting wheat on a farm owned by San Shepard, and soon Gere is concocting another escape plan, which holds tragic ramifications for all involved.

Narrated with a remarkable matter-of-factness by Manz, “Days of Heaven” is the film that established Malick as cinema’s great environmentalist, in that the sounds, colors, textures and temperaments of nature play a role more significant than that of the characters. It is a movie you get lost in.

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Also new this week:

Though it made little box office impression, “Mr. Brooks,” starring Kevin Costner as a pillar of society who also happens to be a serial killer, was one of the smartest thrillers of the year. If it happens to become a cult hit on DVD (3 stars, New Line, $29.98), Costner may get the opportunity to make the continuation he envisioned.

The latest entry in the “Classic Albums Live” series is “Dreamboat Annie Live: Heart” (3 stars, $19.98, Shout! Factory), which has sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson reunited to perform their hit album in sequence, along with some songs by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd that influenced their writing.

And old Pinhead is back in “Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition” (3 stars, $24.98, Starz/Anchor Bay) with author Clive Barker providing a commentary for the 1987 puzzle box of a horror movie, a nightmare far more vivid and intriguing than any of the sequels it begat.

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TV on DVD:

If you didn’t record it on TiVo, then you haven’t been able to freeze-frame that final scene of “The Sopranos,” which means you’ve been unable to come up with your own interpretations of what it all meant. You now have the opportunity with the release of the final DVD box of the series: “The Sopranos - Season 6, Part 2” (3 stars, HBO, $99.98). It brings together the final nine episodes of one of the greatest comic tragedies ever to grace a TV screen. (And I think the ending is perfect.)

The return of the grown-up Indiana Jones to the big screen next year is preceded by the “The Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones - Volume One” (Paramount, $129.99), which puts together the first seven feature-length episodes of the 1992 series. The show had the elderly Jones recalling adventures from his youth. It was an interesting concept (different actors played young Indy at different ages) that failed to catch on with audiences, but the production values are remarkable.

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Family pick of the week:

It may take some time for the new 3D system featured in “Chicken Little” and the reissue of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to be adapted for home theater. That means that “Meet the Robinsons” (3 stars, Disney, $29.99) will not have the dimensional impact on DVD that it had in theaters earlier this year.

Still, this is an inventive and original story (inspired by a children’s book) about a 12-year-old orphan named Lewis who has little luck in either of his two great endeavors: to get adopted and to invent something worthy of winning the school’s science fair. But when he meets the mysterious Wilbur, his world literally changes as he is whisked into a future and to a family he could have never imagined. He seems to fit right into both.

Disney has included an array of its usual kid-friendly activity extras, but the real bonus is the 1938 cartoon “Mickey Mouse’s Boat Builder,” which has Mick, Donald Duck and Goofy comically attempting to build a boat from a do-it-yourself kit.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/godards-breathless-is-lovelier-than-ever/